In developing this unit I remembered my experience as a rather uninterested student of social studies. What began to make history come alive for me was the study of art. I felt an immediate connection, as I began to explore the process of making my own sculptures in plaster and bronze, to the works of artists from all over the world. A college anthropology course introduced me to a broader view of the life of the creators of these images. So the idea for this unit is to provide an atmosphere where my art students (seventh and eighth grades) could examine an unfamiliar culture while creating their own images.
This unit seeks to examine two cities as an excursion in my art room. We will travel to Mexico, specifically a visit to Mexico City, present day, and then proceed towards one of the most mysterious ancient cities of the entire New World, Teotihuacan. My thought is to build the excitement of studying another culture by travelling there. So rather than a unit focused on historical background, I will try to weave the facts into the text as we move from place to place using our excursion as a starting point for the art activities I will initiate in the classroom setting.
In previous units I have developed, (America’s Urban Landscape and Our Images Make History
), I examined ho
w the artists portray their cities and how the art of mural making (Diego Rivera W.P.A. / Contemporary Muralists) became popular in the United States. Seeking to expand the idea of city and having just briefly introduced Mexico to my students, I thought it was appropriate to return to its capital Mexico City and discover its rich history through its links to a much more distant past.
The well known British sculptor Henry Moore spent a great deal of his life as a teacher and I find his comment to reveal one of the broad objectives this unit seeks to create:
“The most striking quality common to all primitive art is its intense vitality. It is something made by people with a direct and immediate response to life. Sculpture and painting for them was not an activity of calculation or academism, but a channel for expressing powerful beliefs, hopes and fears . . . But apart from its own enduring value, a knowledge of it conditions a fuller and truer appreciation of the later developments of the so-called great periods, and shows art to be a universal continuous activity with no separation between past and present.”
Anthropologists have given much of their study to so-called “primitive” cultures. The word “primitive” connotes simple or technologically backward and is no longer used as an appropriate word to describe the cultures of peoples of the past. In exposing my students to ancient cultures I consciously avoid any reference of “primitive”. The implication, is also that our culture then becomes advanced or civilized in comparison. Anthropologists currently study humans, not just some of long ago, but all humanity. When I was in college and studied anthropology my professor focused on past studies as well as the recent work being carried out in the field of “urban anthropology”. At various points in this unit we will be examining the products of archaeologists and anthropologists efforts shedding light on the life of contemporary Mexican life.